by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Boom, boom, boom (cntd)
It is a real thrill taking a fleet of newly built or refitted ships into battle and coming out victorious. You designed these winners in the gameís well-made ship designer. You were the one to equip them with the right mix of defensive measures and powerful weaponry. Itís personal! And while it is incredibly satisfying to see your ships perform so well, it is equally devastating witnessing the destruction when the next enemy fleet turns out to have a completely different setup to which your own ships prove ineffective. This is what Master of Orion was all about, and StarDrive 2 translates this into real-time surprisingly well.
Ground combat is turn-based and almost feels like a mini-game. Landing soldiers on a planet or derelict ship, you engage whatever defensive forces are present. In some cases, the battlefield is a simple square but others depict the inside of a space ship or building. Having complete control over your soldiers, you actually feel like you are able to influence the outcome. Ground combat isnít anything special, but itís a great way to add variety to the game.
I was quite surprised to see that I could play around with my soldierís loadouts. Medkits, armour, weapons, deployable shields... there are quite a few options to customise them to suit your play style. Research unlocks further options, resulting in seemingly endless combinations.
StarDrive 2 loves serving up such little surprises. The first time my main fleet ventured out too far from my empireís borders, my ships inconveniently ran out of fuel, reducing their travel speed. Slowly making its way back to the nearest occupied star system, the fleet was unable to intercept the enemy fleet that turned up on the opposite side of my empire, heading towards a fledgling colony without protection of any kind. The results were not pretty, but it taught me something new.
Another fun aspect is that ships gain experience and are awarded medals to reflect increased skills in areas such as the shipís ability to soak up or deal damage. These bonuses are significant enough to make you want to keep them alive and pit stops to outfit ships with the latest technology become a regular occurrence.
Also interesting is the Warhawk movement. This group of... concerned rich citizens keeps track of your relations with other empires. On occasion, they see fit to pressure you into war, either with a competing empire or with themselves for refusing to agree to their wishes.
As wonderful a game StarDrive 2 is, I have a few niggles that deserve mentioning. As said, the game is tough on normal difficulty. I suspect most players will stick to playing on easy and it would be great if normal is brought down a notch.
The gameís interface is elegant and does a great job of making sense of sometimes complex concepts such as ship building and research. Yet it could use a little more TLC in some areas. For instance, the buttons that allow you to browse from planet to planet donít stay in the same place so a quick scroll is out of the question. Iíd also love to have the turn button disabled when one or more planets lack build orders.
Almost Master of Orion
StarDrive 2 does not dethrone Master of Orion 2 as the best 4X game in space ever made, but damn it gets close. It is almost as deep, it almost has the same rich atmosphere and almost that same inspired gameplay. That may not sound uplifting, but considering the bar weíre looking at, ďalmostĒ is a staggering achievement. No one has ever got - this - close.
So, shall I say it? I shall indeed: StarDrive 2 is the best thing since Master of Orion. Period.
Deep gameplay, great race design.
Some small interface niggles.